ON THIS DATE in 1951, sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield (seventeen when he narrated his story) entered the literary ether with the publication of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.
Those who admire The Catcher in the Rye (and I’m one) like the prep-school dropout who wanders around New York making caustic comments like, “That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a toilet seat.” The New York Times reviewer Nash K. Burger decreed it “an unusually brilliant novel” and professor Peter G. Beidler of Lehigh University called Caulfield “an icon of the troubled youth of the 20th century.”
One suprising fan of the novel is ex-president George H. W. Bush, who called it “a marvelous book” and said it inspired him.
Some others found no charm in The Catcher in the Rye’s hero. Political columnist George Will described Caulfield as “a new social type which subsequently has become familliar — the American as a whiner.” Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post found the character “just about as phony as those he criticized as well as an unregenerate whiner and egotist.” Yardley also objected to Salinger’s “execrable prose.”
According to a 2009 story in The New York Times, many modern high school students find Caulfield irritating and unsympathetic. “What once seemed like courageous truth-telling now strikes many (students) as ‘weird,’ ‘whiny’ and ‘immature,’” one teacher told The Times. A fifteen-year-old boy said, “Oh, we all hated Holden in my class. We just wanted to tell him, “Shut up and take your Prozac.’”